Historian Feliks Banel: KIRO Radio broadcasts during the Pearl Harbor attack

Dec 7, 2011, 5:29 PM | Updated: Dec 8, 2011, 11:14 am

On Wednesday, the United States marked the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks.

Veterans and family members of those that experienced the attack gathered in Hawaii, and all across the country to pay tribute to those that lost their lives.

The USS Arizona sinks after a surprise attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (AP Photo/File)

In Seattle, historian Feliks Banel took a look back at what people in the Emerald City were listening to as the United States entered the Second World War.

At the time, Banel says, KIRO Radio had the largest radio signal north of San Francisco and west of Minneapolis. Programming sounded different too.

“That whole wall-to-wall coverage, that didn’t exist,” Banel told 97.3 KIRO FM’s Ron & Don Show. He said that a reporter broke into programming at 11:30 a.m. to announce the attack on Pearl Harbor. Then it was back to programming as usual.

“A sponsor would buy hours of programming, and it wasn’t the network’s decision to change programming without losing a lot of money,” explained Banel. So news updates would occur during breaks in the shows; the laugh track would fade down, a reporter would update listeners and the laugh track would be brought up again and return to the scheduled programming.

“[People in Seattle] were horrified that Pearl Harbor had been attacked and they knew there was great loss of life. But then it was: ‘What are we going to do to protect ourselves?'”

Banel reminded us that military tactics and technology were quite different at the time. A sneak attack from Japanese planes was a real threat to those living on the West Coast.

A complete blackout was ordered by the government at 11 p.m. – every light between the Mexican and Canadian borders in Washington, Oregon and California needed to be turned off.

“In the March of 1941, Seattle did the first blackout of a major American city as a practice,” Banel said. People took it seriously; there was a large citizen involvement. “It was a real threat; they thought they could have been attacked.”

The West Coast remained safe, and many Washingtonians joined the war effort thereafter. The rest, as they say, is history.

Ron and Don

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Historian Feliks Banel: KIRO Radio broadcasts during the Pearl Harbor attack